A warm breeze carrying sounds of music and laughter and laden with the smells of diverse food from pop-up stalls floated through the San Francisco Pride celebrations gathered around the Civic Center. Whether wearing nothing but cock rings (it’s one way to ensure an even tan), unicorn onesies or the very popular lollipop T-shirt that was on sale this season at Target (so trendy I was wearing it, too), people seemed overwhelmingly happy.
One of the innumerable (I had my girlfriend Charlie try to count — she couldn’t get through June) festivals San Francisco hosts every year, SF Pride represents the largest: a day of inclusion, equality, celebration and political activism. Despite the widely accepted commercialization of the event, my experience this year showed me that the rush for cash has not overtaken the meaning or message of the day.
“No worries, he’s hella chill,” a cheerful stranger assured the group gathering on a makeshift dance floor as she laid a thick, muscular python around my neck. Around us, people danced to music blaring from the platform above, labeled by a large banner reading “Girls kissing girls.” On the asphalt, we were surrounded by gay and straight couples alike, and everyone danced. Jumping into the crowd, one graying lady, wearing a rainbow tutu and sunglasses too large for her face, out-danced us all. Nowhere had I felt safer in expressing my love of another woman than there, in the middle of San Francisco, in the middle of a dancing, inebriated crowd, with a snake around my neck.
Looking back on it, my comfort, so noticeable there, reveals my own persistent —yet accepted and normalized — discomfort as an out gay woman. Crucially, this is a discomfort felt not only by those in the queer community, but one held by all people of visible and invisible difference.
In this politically fraught time when many of our communities, including the LGBTQ+, the undocumented and the disabled communities, are facing challenges to our rights, celebration of our differences is ever-more important.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both declared “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in each June of their presidencies. Forty-four years ago, the Stonewall riots occurred in June 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York. Those three days of rioting and resisting are seen as the birthplace of the modern gay liberation movement, a time of deep unrest and mistrust between the gay community and the authorities.
The following year, 30 people marched down Polk Street in San Francisco, as the city allied with New York in remembering Stonewall and protesting further inequalities. One by one, cities across the world added their own Pride marches, and they have now become one of the most well-recognised events worldwide.
One thing that has unified these marches is the now global symbol of LGBTQ+ acceptance, the rainbow flag. Gilbert Baker, the activist who designed it, sadly passed away this year, but he leaves behind him a powerful, colorful flag that weaves a message of love into the air that flies it. The flag, the face paint, the balloons and the myriad colors on display at all Pride parades are symbols now of our visibility; no one can deny our existence.
President Donald Trump neglected to announce Pride Month in 2017. Significantly, this oversight certainly didn’t dampen the jubilant parade in San Francisco. We must not let a period of uncertainty affect how proudly we who love a little differently, celebrate our loves.
Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk and prominent social activist, spoke at the event, introducing living activists whose lives he has immortalized through his writing. “No more kids being called less-than or second class by their government,” he insisted. He emphasized that the fight for equality is the same fight across sectors: across gender, race and sexuality. He explicitly urged those gathered in support of Pride to participate in equally important causes, such as those of Black Lives Matter and the women’s marches. He reminded us of the intersectionality of our diverse causes, of our shared goal: equality.
The festivals and events of San Francisco and the surrounding cities always seem to be going on and easy to ignore. Yet, to quote a chant from the parade, “This is what democracy looks like.” Not only do we enjoy the wealth of our Bay Area community by attending, but we become active and responsible citizens through our thoughtful participation in them.
This weekend, celebrate our diverse community at the 33rd Annual Fillmore Jazz Festival. On July 1 and 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., free performances and dance classes will be held along Fillmore Street. For more information, please visit http://www.sresproductions.com/events/fillmore-jazz-festival/
Isabel writes the Thursday column on discovering Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. Contact her at [email protected].